Charlize Theron has overcome plenty of obstacles to take her place as true Hollywood royalty.

She is recognised as one of the most beautiful women on the planet, and an actor with some serious talent, but for Oscar winner Charlize Theron, the victories were hard won.

Born in Benoni, South Africa, on August 7, 1975, Charlize was born into an unhappy household. Her parents, Charles and Gerda, were coowners of a road construction company and lived on a working farm outside of Johannesburg. Her father Charles was reported to have been a violent alcoholic and life was never easy. However, Charlize’s passion for animals and dance provided a happy distraction. A talented dancer, Charlize was sent to boarding school on a dance scholarship when she was 12.

In 1991, when Theron was just 15, her father, in a drunken violent rage, alledgedly attacked Charlize and her mother, and as Charlize watched in horror, her mother fatally shot her father. The act was deemed self-defence and no charges were ever laid. In the aftermath of the horrific incident, Charlize created the story that her father had been killed in a car accident, a story that held for many years.

The incident, as well as the broader unrest in her home of South Africa, gave her a unique perspective. “I don’t know if I would be who I am today if I’d grown up in a different country,” she said. “In our house the news was always on, the newspaper was always on the dining room table and my parents had a real thirst for politics, and that’s how I grew up. A lot of my American friends grew up in a different way, and because of what’s happened in America in recent years, they are asking questions, playing catch-up. But I can understand that, because they were living in a country that was comfy and cozy. I wasn’t. I want to know what is going on. I have an interest in world politics–how can you not when you live on this Earth? I’m just flabbergasted when people don’t give a shit.”

By 16, the stunning Charlize had won several modelling competitions. Travelling to New York at the age of 18, she decided to leave modelling to pursue her first love – dance. Although she studied and performed with some high profile dance schools in New York, she suffered several debilitating injuries that put an end to her dance career, but opened her up to the world of acting.

Charlize’s journey to the big screen is a story worthy of a script itself. After moving to Los Angeles, Charlize soon found that despite her movie star looks, her South African accent was holding her back. So she plonked herself in front of the TV and spent weeks perfecting her American accent.

“Looks alone won’t get you that far,” she said. “It may get you in the door, but there’s always somebody younger, somebody prettier. You have to rely on something else.”

Her big break came in the most unlikely of ways. It was 1994, when a broke and desperate Charlize argued with a bank teller, who refused to allow her to withdraw funds from a South African account. Legend has it that her tantrum in the bank was quite a performance; such a good one in fact that it earned the attention of fellow customer John Crosby, a Hollywood manager who represented talent including John Hurt and Rene Russo. He immediately offered to sign Charlize and, within months, she made her acting debut in a small role in Children of the Corn III, followed by 2 Days in the Valley, and That Thing You Do!.

Her good looks and obvious talent soon saw her cast alongside Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate. After that, her star continued to rise with parts in Woody Allen’s Celebrity, Mighty Joe Young, The Astronaut’s Wife, The Cider House Rules, and Sweet November.

By 2003, she was a fully-fledged rising star, and starred opposite Mark Wahlberg in the heist thriller The Italian Job, but it was her performance later that year in Monster—a biopic about serial killer Aileen Wuornos—that earned her widespread respect. She gained almost 20 kilos for the role, and her chilling and gritty performance won her both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

Since then, her choice of roles has been eclectic; always focusing on the quality of the work. She starred as Britt Ekland in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, and in North Country as an iron miner fighting sexual harassment in the work place (a role which earned her nominations at the Golden Globes and the Oscars).

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She also became an action star with roles in Aeon Flux, Hancock, Prometheus, Mad Max: Fury Road and the Fast and Furious franchise. Her action status continues in her latest role in Atomic Blonde which sees her playing an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Her decade long relationship with actor Stuart Townsend ended in 2010, and she has since had a brief relationship with Sean Penn, but her focus has been firmly focused on her children Jackson and August, both of whom were adopted. Her life is simple, and relatively ‘normal’ and that’s just the way she likes it.

“I live a very simple life,” she said. “I don’t have to make those giant movies. I don’t have a yacht or a private plane. As long as I can maintain this life, which is pretty low-maintenance and simple, then all of a sudden you don’t have to worry about all that stuff. I don’t have to take a job to pay a mortgage on a house I can’t afford.”